Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Alan Grayson Introduces A Constitutional Amendment To End Gerrymandering


Isn't it time to end the anti-democratic practice of gerrymandering? No, it's actually past time-- way past time. In 2012, for example, 59,645,531 Americans (48.8%) voted for Democrats running for Congress and 58,228,253 (47.6%) voted for Republicans. In a mathematically perfect world, the Democrats would have 213 seats and the Republicans would have 207 seats. That would have been a reflection of the popular will. Instead, largely because of gerrymandered districts, the Republicans wound up with 234 seats and the Democrats only got 201.

Let's look at it from a different perspective. 2012 saw a presidential election and a senatorial election in Ohio statewide. Democrats Barack Obama and Sherrod Brown beat Republicans Mitt Romney and Josh Mandel. Across the state, Obama won 2,697,260 votes (50%) to Romney's 2,593,779 (48%) and Brown won 2,645,901 votes (50%) to Mandel's 2,371,230 (45%). In theory, at least half of Ohio's 16 House seats (8, perhaps 9) would have gone to Democrats. But because the Republican-controlled legislature drew the district lines-- with the guidance of a secret committee staffed by Republican operatives and controlled by John Boehner-- and which were then approved by a highly partisan Republican governor, only 4 Ohio seats went to Democrats and 12 went to Republicans. All are extremely safe for their incumbents.

Republicans took the opportunity to oust progressive Democrat Dennis Kucinich by drawing a strange-looking district that stretched along a think swathe of Lake Erie from Toledo to the west side of Cleveland and throwing him into a primary with long term Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. Both Cleveland and Toledo are majority Democratic areas. Further south progressive Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy had represented Ohio's 15th congressional district, a very competitive swing district. Before gerrymandering, it included half of Franklin County, with a significant number of Democrats, along with two rural Republican counties. Her own immediate neighborhood was divided up so that people on her short street were now in three different congressional districts and, adding insult to injury, the boundary of the new majority Democratic 3rd CD went up to her property line, putting her a few feet outside the new Democratic district-- the old 15th-- and into a deep red 12th GOP hellhole. Yesterday we asked Mary Jo what this kind of gerrymandering does to public policy and the interests of actual Ohio families, rather than just to the careers of politicians and power-games of the parties.

"Voters in Ohio," she told us, "have little opportunity to vote for change. When Representatives Stivers and Tiberi vote to defund Planned Parenthood or eliminate Obamacare, or do favors for the big banks that underwrite their political campaigns, they do so with impunity, knowing that they chose the voters for their hugely Republican districts."

And Ohio is just one example of this kind of political chicanery. Virginia, Michigan, Indiana, North Carolina, Florida, Texas have all seen corrupt Republican state legislatures draw district maps to thwart the will of the voters and give control to their own party.

North Carolina's most promising political leader, Rep. Brad Miller, was gerrymandered out of a district by a sharp GOP legislature who saw what a powerful force he could become. This morning I asked him how gerrymandering has changed his state. "It has been a long time since the Republican Party in the South has been the party of Lincoln," he told me. "The modern Republican Party in the South was born of opposition to the civil rights movement."
The strategy of Republican redistricting in the South has been to segregate African-Americans into a few districts no matter how garbled the lines, and claim that federal law made them do it. Jim Crow districts hurt African-Americans and hurt race relations. There might be a handful more African-American politicians elected as a result, but in office they are in a permanent minority. I represented a district that was 29 percent African-American. On Sundays, I was as likely to be in an African-American church as my own church., and I showed up every time a local branch of the NAACP had a banquet.  Southern Republicans with bleached districts don’t care in the slightest about African-American concerns.

North Carolina is now a purple state in national politics, and the congressional seats should be roughly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans as they were before the last redistricting. Instead, there are ten Republican seats and three Democratic seats, and the state legislature is just as bad. I have some friends running in very uphill districts and I wish them the best, but they have no chance to put together the coalition that elected me.
Democrats have wrung their hands and whined about this-- and in some cases fought back with the same kind of ugly corrupt practices, particularly in Illinois and Maryland. Monday, Orlando-based Congressman Alan Grayson offered the first-ever constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering nationally, something he based on a fair-districts amendment recently passed-- overwhelmingly and across party lines-- by Florida voters for their own state constitution.

Kilroy noted that Ohio will be stuck with the current congressional map unless Grayson's bill or something like it is passed. "And you can bet your powerball winnings that the Ohio legislature won't fix their handiwork. It will take intervention like Alan's bill to do it."

Grayson's amendment draws on the Florida provisions in several ways. His proposal would prevent congressional districts from being "drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent" or to disadvantage "racial or language minorities," and would require districts to "consist of contiguous territory" and use "existing political and geographical boundaries" whenever possible.

Mark Pocan, the Wisconsin congressman with the most progressive voting record in the entire Congress understand why this is so very important. "I think the basic principles of our democracy lay out pretty clearly that voters should choose their elected officials and elected officials should not be in the business of choosing their voters. Unfortunately, it has become more and more common for those in power to set the rules and draw the lines for the next election. The only way forward to ensure fair and free elections is to have simple, nonpartisan rules for drawing congressional districts. I’ve seen firsthand in Wisconsin what happens when elected officials are allowed to weigh in on how political districts are drawn and the results lead to a government that does not necessarily reflect the people’s will. This is exactly why I believe this process should be entirely removed from the hands of elected officials."

And President Obama endorsed the idea that's behind Grayson's amendment at the State of the Union last night: "We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around." People applauded; let see how they vote-- if Ryan even ever allows it to come to a vote.

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At 3:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) This proposed amendment would do well with a complementary one that enumerates the "unalienable" right to vote possessed by all citizens, at the federal state and local level. Optimally it would identify/define as felonious crimes, voter suppression, election fraud and voter fraud.

2) The gist of the proposed amendment is: " ... a State shall ensure that no plan for the apportionment of Representatives among individual districts, or any individual district established under such plan, is drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect Representatives of their choice; "

Did the "fair-districts amendment recently passed-- overwhelmingly and across party lines-- by Florida voters for their own state constitution" result from having shown, in court, previous INTENT to "favor or disfavor" or deny or abridge any party, individual or minority? THAT IS, referring to intent immediately makes any effort to legally oppose/reverse instances of de facto gerrymandering much more difficult

Please, some relevant details of the Florida story.

Excuses are cheap and readily accepted by our increasingly corrupt court system.
An amendment making it virtually impossible to prove the action it proposes to eradicate may well be reduced to: "please, political monsters, don't gerrymander"


John Puma


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